Theresa May became the 76th prime minister of the United Kingdom Wednesday. But despite over two decades in politics, May is largely unknown on the other side of the Atlantic.
May was first elected as a Conservative member of parliament in 1997. She earned a reputation as a modernizer, calling in 2002 for a more inclusive party and warning that many voters saw the Conservatives as the “nasty party.” She briefly served as party chair before assuming her current role of home secretary in 2010.
May has a reputation as a serious-minded workaholic and has been dubbed a “safe pair of hands” by supporters. They maintain that she can be trusted to steer the country as the U.K. begins the fraught process of divorcing the European Union as called for under the Brexit referendum held last month.
Theresa May struck a populist tone in her first public remarks as British Prime Minister on Wednesday, saying she planned to continue predecessor David Cameron’s “true legacy” of social justice.
The Conservative Party leader spoke directly to the poor, black and white working-class residents as well as women, youth and those with mental health issues, saying, “The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of a privileged few, but by yours.”
Her party prizes unionism, she said, and not just among England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, “but between all of our citizens, everyone, whoever we are and wherever we’re from.”
“David Cameron has led a one-nation government, and it is in that spirit that I also plan to lead,” she said.
May wasted no time getting to work, naming six Cabinet members shortly after taking the nation’s helm. Among them were two of her chief rivals in her bid to head the Conservative Party: members of Parliament Boris Johnson and Liam Fox.
Who is Theresa May?
In his final appearance in Parliament as Prime Minister, Cameron opened with the quip that “apart from one meeting in the afternoon with the Queen, my diary is remarkably light.”
Before resigning, Cameron delivered remarks outside 10 Downing Street, saying, “It’s not been an easy journey, and of course we’ve not got every decision right, but I do believe that today our country is much stronger.”
He wished May the best, especially as she negotiates the country’s “Brexit” from the European Union. If he were granted one wish, he said, it would be the “continued success of this great country that I love so very much.” Cameron will continue on as a member of Parliament.
Leaving on light note
Earlier Wednesday, Cameron appeared to be in a jovial mood as he told members of Parliament: “I have addressed 5,500 questions from this dispatch box — I’ll leave it to others to decide how many I’ve answered.”
He held up a photo of himself with Larry the Downing Street cat, saying he loved the “chief mouser” and was sad to be leaving him behind.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) July 13, 2016
On a more serious note, Cameron said he cared passionately about the UK, adding that “we need to make sure as we leave the EU, how we keep the benefits of the common travel area.”
Gesturing across the room and up to his wife, Samantha, watching from the gallery, he said: “I will miss the roar of the crowd, I will miss the barbs from the opposition, but I will be willing you on.
“Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, as I once said, I was the future once.”